Traditionally the only things I associate with renting are dvds from redbox and cars from airport parking lots, so when I heard about the online sensation renttherunway I wasn't sure what to make of it. I felt a bit reticent at the thought of sharing a closet, no matter how fabulous the contents, with an ocean of unknown women who happened to share my dress size. However the logic behind the concept is incredibly sound. Any woman who has had to dress for a big event knows the stress & excitement associated with the prep, but often thing like weddings, proms, and pageants lead to the purchase of an expensive dress that you wear one glorious time and then pack away in a puffy bag banished to the back of the closet. Especially in the age of the instant upload, self conscious socialites are more aware than ever of what they wear, and apps make it easy for the world to see everything from everywhere. What better way to keep your closet and your timeline fresh than renting expensive attire for special occasions at a fraction of the price and shipping them back to sender once you're done!
Six months ago I got the save the date for the wedding of my wonderful ex-work-wife in the mail and I made a note to myself that if I didnt find a date by the time the event came around I'd at least spring for a great dress. Once October rolled around and I'd RSVP'd with my little brother as my plus one I figured it was about time to find that dress. A couple of Asos orders later I still wasn't satisfied with any of my prospects so I hopped online to give RTR a spin.
As i perused their collection, any hesitance I had over sharing with strangers quickly melted away as I clicked to my heart's content, building a list of favorites to choose from. The process is outlined on their website as consisting of three easy steps. Love, Wear, and Return. The love part was simple and I quickly narrowed down a short list of styles for the big day.
PHASE 1: LOVE
First Round # 1 Pick: Yigal Azrouel Playing With Fire Dress
My mother always tells me that I wear too much black and I've found that really bright colors tend to complement my darker complexion so I went in looking for something bright and I found it with this one. (I also have a strong propensity towards perspiration so when wearing light and bright items I'm always looking for room around the armpits to minimize the chance of sweat circles - I'm just sayin...) At first glance, this brilliantly cut style in a fantastic color seemed to have all that I was looking for. The one big danger though in online shopping is that things are often not what they seem and nothing ever looks like it does on the model. The doubt associated with this fact could have easily been the end of the journey right there, but those brilliant minds saw me coming and as a member you can scroll down to see insightful reviews and pictures from previous renters of all shapes and sizes.
This isn't just a practical feature of the process but one of the best parts of the experience. Nothing can beat the certainty of trying a dress on yourself in the mirror, but if you are shopping online, it adds a dimension to the experience to be able to see the product on a variety of real women.
When you rent a video or a car there's a level of distance between the person and the product and no real connection to the previous renters, but with clothes there's a level of intimacy. At first that closeness and sharing sketched me out, but it's because of that very fact that each product creates a bit of community among shoppers and there's an inherent trust built because you're not hearing about the product from someone paid to sell it to you but from someone sharing their actual experience, good or bad to help inform and improve your own.
In the case of this Playing With Fire Dress, seeing the images of previous renters revealed that the dress might have a bit more va va and voom than I was looking for, as the neckline plunged and the back stood out strong, so I decided to go back to my favorites and shoot for second choice.
First Round #2 Pick: Chic Yellow Rose Bodice Dress There's a reason this dress is on the top rated list. That color is absolutely impossible to ignore and the pictures in the review panel truly make it seem like it can do no wrong - short women, tall women, women of every shade and size raved about this number. It seemed as though my search was through, but when I returned to the site the week before the wedding I learned a hard lesson as all the upcoming dates were shrouded in grey, meaning I'd been beaten to the punch by a mile. If you want to step out in this show stopping sheath you'd better make your reservation months in advance!
First Round #3 Pick: Nicole Miller Perfect Lady Dress
This dress managed to be none of what I was looking for and still everything I wanted to wear. The color was what caught my attention as it wasn't an obvious choice and it didn't shout but still made my cursor stop and click, plus the length and fit were equal parts appropriate and attractive. We seemed to be a match made in a happy place, especially when it came to the price, but ALAS again that price is probably part of what did me in, because this dress is also in high demand, certainly unavailable in my relatively short time turnaround.
Lesson Learned from Round 1
It's the worst to find what you love and then realize its right out of your reach so if you decide to rent, make sure you do so well enough in advance to secure your favorites.
After that discouraging first round, I hit the mall to see if I could find something to buy and call it a day. The Perfect Lady dress had me still seeing green and this strapless wonder from BCBG almost overtook the competition, but with a price tag just under $200 in a Final Sale location, I decided to leave it on the rack and give RTR one more shot. Having recieved a birthday coupon in the mail I was encouraged to go back and see if anything amazing had been hiding the first time around.
Second Round #1 Pick: Rachel Roy Listen Up Dress
Even though the description of this dress implied it was office chic, there was something about the richness of the color and fabric that made me think it would be perfect for a wedding. The high wattage nature of a darker color was intruiging to me. I felt like I was taking quite a risk since there were no pictures attached to any of the listed reviews and everyone mentioned that it ran quite large but the color was mesmorizing so I decided to take the leap. Knowing that I typically wear a size 6 and all the reviews mentioned it running large I ordered it in a 4 with a 2 as my backup size. A couple days after placing my order (Ordered on Oct 1, email came Oct 4, Event was Oct 6) I got an email expressing regret over the fact that my primary size 4 was unavailable - GASP - my first thought was there's no way I'd fit into a size 2 but hey why not let them send it and see.
Second Round #2 Pick: Milly Like Honey Dress
This was one of the first dresses I'd marked as a favorite when I originally joined the site because when you pair all that sparkle with a big black bow, you just look like you're ready to party. It's likely better suited to be a new years eve dress than a wedding guest dress, but it was just so undeniably attractive that I decided to order a 6 as a back up to my back up and call it a day.
Phase 2: WEAR
My items arrived on time in super cute packaging which is always a plus.
The color was AMAZING! Someone had mentioned that it had a bit of shimmer in a previous review and while I didnt quite see it, I wasn't missing anything. It was just the best blue a girl could hope for, true cobalt. I did notice there was still a sales tag on the dress and i wasnt sure if I was supposed to remove it or not, the material is thin enough that if I wore it someone behind me could've seen the shape of the sales tag and assumed I was running my own department store wear-and-return hustle and I certainly didnt want to look like "that girl".
As I wrapped it around me for the first time, the reality of the reviews was made real. This dress runs LARGE. I'm a size 6 and I had to tie this size 2 tight!! Even then, the top area was prone to unfortunate lapses of coverage. As my brother was trying to take pictures to send to my sister, more than one was obscured by the flash of unintentional bra and he was quick to cast his vote against this frock. He, his girlfriend via text, and my sister via skype all agreed that the color was phenomenal but the possibility of giving the other guests a show to go along with their dinner just wasnt worth the risk.
On account of the color alone I still want to give this dress high praise. If it was a dress I owned I might've been bolder and attempted to pin it. I didn't realize until just now that they included fashion tape in the box maybe for issues just like this, but caution prevailed in this case and this piece did not come out on top. If you do rent this dress I would caution you to be careful with what you touch because I did notice that it's not a very forgiving type of material when it comes to showing fingerprints, and with all the adjusting of the bust area needed in my case, paws were all over the place.
As soon as I pulled this one out of the bag my brother was like "whoa". Its a gold dress with enough sequins to cover multiple costumes for dancing with the stars, yet it still managed to come off classy. Well, on the hanger that is. After placing my order I'd shown my mother this option on the site and she remarked that it looked "awfully short". In one of those, my-mom-is-likely-right-but-I'm-not-about-to-show-it moments I simply remarked "we'll see".
Well see we did and if I bent over the wrong way we'd see say and saw all at once. I think that this dress would have been on the money if I was about 2-3 inches shorter, but a this length standing I was quite worried how it would look when seated. In spite of all that concern I was still leaning toward this dress as the winner and even went out to get some pantyhose which helped mitigate the whole "legs legs legs = short dress" factor.
On the day of the wedding it was looking like the short gold dress had won. So it was time to shop around for accessories. I made a pitstop at DSW and found an adorable metallic clutch with a bow that I thought would make a great match and a Nine West tablet case that had the who sequined madness thing going on so i bought both and figured I'd return the unused option. It turned out the tabet case matched the dress exactly which was great news since I never can fit enough in tiny special event purses anyway.
Things seemed set but my worries lingered when I considered the high chance of my conservative insides wobbling with discomfort once I sat down for the ceremony and my hemline hit the mile high mark on my thigh.
With that in mind I hit the mall one last time, really intending to just hit the nail salon but stopping by MaxStudio (my favorite favorite favorite store) for a quick last minute option. I didn't expect to see anything I hadnt seen before since I'm such a frequent flyer there, but I was pleasantly suprised by this ruffled dress in just the right color green. After a quick changing room consult with my sister I finally said a real yes to a dress!!
Its a bit difficult to see in this changing room shot, but the dress was a bit unforgiving of my lady lumps and bumps in my midsection, but I'd picked up some saucy looking shapewear from bcbg on my original trip and it actualy did smooth things out. I'm not going to lie though, from the picture on the package I thought these had extra padding for a little boost in the back if you know what I mean, but it turns out they were pretty much like spanx with less intensity.
Ever since my mom made me sit down and watch an episode of Dr. Oz talking about shapewear sqeezing your intestines I've been wary of it, but in this case, it came in handy. A word to the wise though be careful with you shapewear selections though, once I got to the reception and started standing and sitting a lot, my dress would work its way up and my shapewear would show, not in a good way, so always beware the length of your undergarments.
All in all, the wedding was amazing!!! Every aspect of the celebration was simply elegant, beautiful, genuine, and perfectly fitting the bride and groom. I felt so blessed to share the day with their family and friends and happy to have a brother who put up with all my antics before and during the blessed event.
Phase 3: RETURN
This was the simplest step of all! I returned it yesterday which was a holiday (and my birthday!) I don't think it wil get shipped until today but I followed the instructions and put the dresses in the supplied envelope which was already labeled and ready to go.
The hangtag said "Use ALL envelopes" which made me a bit worried since I only had one but I went ahead and slipped them in, sealed it up, and dropped in in the mail before the clock struck 12.
I will admit that oddly enough I've never used on of these blue mail boxes before so I stood there for a moment pulling on all the wrong things before I bent down and saw the handle. Then I stood there wondering if I'd put it in the wrong one because the package said priority, the other bin said express and I put it in a bin that said didnt say anything special. Hopefully the lady watching me struggle from her minivan in the parking lot got her good laugh in for the day :)
Since I didnt actually wear any of my rentals to the wedding, my renttherunway experience was a failure of sorts. However, I learned a lot from it and have mixed feelings about whether I'll do it again. If you ask me when I'm away from the computer I'll tend to say No, unless I'm in NY and I can stop by the showroom and try dresses on first. But if you catch me with my laptop in my hands and dresses on my screen I just might not be able to resist rolling the dice again because a dress in the mail is so much more than just a dress in the mail, its a box that promises you in the very least, an experience.